Do Men Have Feelings?

Last month I posted three columns about men without friends. Scores of readers responded, especially to the last one, Six Things a Man Must Do to Get What Every Man Needs, But Few Get. Here’s a follow up column that describes a helpful tool.

Scientists call us homo sapiens, wise, rational, thinking beings. I, like other men, am always thinking. What’s more, I can tell you exactly what I am thinking about, Ask me and I will tell you instantly. It could be about the next speech or writing project, or people I want to see, or problems I am analysing, or combining old ideas to make new ones, or relationships around me, or, or, or.

If, on the other hand, you ask me how I am feeling emotionally, the answer will come much more slowly. Since I am a writer and speaker I force myself to feel, to relive incidents in the past, to feel physically and emotionally the things that are going on around me. As a communicator I can’t afford to “stuff” my feelings, ignore or discount them. Even so I have to work hard to get in touch with my feelings and describe them. Other men, who are not natural communicators find it even harder to describe their emotional state.

We have been wisely taught to make decisions based on our convictions, not on how we are feeling at the moment. Excellent advice for decision making! Unfortunately, men tend to ignore feelings not just when making choices, but in all areas of life. We men are quick to share what we do and what we are thinking in our minds, but very slow to share what we feel in our hearts.

Even Christian men find it hard to share their feelings in spite of this being a very biblical thing to do. Here’s God saying to David, “So David, how are you doing?” What if David had replied as millions of men do, “Just fine, thanks”? There would have been no book of Psalms. Note that David didn’t just tell God how he felt, he wrote it down for others to read. We men desperately need to understand our own feelings and share them with someone else.

One of my readers told me about a game he and his brother were playing via email that forced them to get in touch with their feelings and share them with each other.

Here’s how it is played: A man picks someone he would like to know better and with whom he is willing to share his feelings. He writes this guy an email that goes something like this:

“Hi Joe, I would like to play a game with you that will help us to get to know each other better. I already know what you do and even some of what you think, and you know those things about me. I know your actions and your mind, but I don’t know your heart and you probably don’t know mine.

“I will start the game in this email by writing a one or two word description of an emotion that I currently feel or have felt in the past 24 hours, followed by a 20 to 50 word explanation of why I feel this way. You read my email and the next day you respond by writing a one or two word emotion and a short explanation of why you feel that way.

“You do NOT comment on my feeling, you do NOT commiserate with me or validate or anything. Just read my feeling and write your own. When I get your email, the next day I reply with something I am feeling. We keep on taking turns daily for a month, trying not to repeat any emotion. At the end of the month we will probably understand our own feelings better, as well as know each other’s heart. We obviously keep this correspondence confidential! Here is my start:

(A personal example from Jack) “JP- UNEASY: Will men reject this as being too touchy-feely and unsubscribe? What response, if any, will there will be to this column? Will anyone understand how important it is to connect with our own feelings and share them with another? Will anyone start this with a friend?”

Something Worse than Mindless Bureaucracy

“Push Start,” the airport check in machine ordered. I pushed Start.

“Place your passport on the scanner.” I did so.

“Are you Jack Popjes traveling to Orlando via Houston on United?” I pushed Yes and obeyed a few more commands.

“Baggage fee $65. Insert your credit card.” I inserted my credit card.

“Take your receipt” I took my receipt,

“Take your boarding passes” I took my boarding passes

“Go to Gate C-15” I went to Gate C-15.

Oh, I did see some human hands reach out to attach routing tags to my two checked bags. At least I think they were human.

Did I mind being ordered about by this machine? Not at all! It recognized me as a human being; it met my needs and efficiently got me and my baggage checked in. I was a happy man.

Not so one night some months earlier as I drove through a small town at midnight. I was dead tired after two speaking engagements, and answering questions on missions. I longed to get home and to bed.

As I approached an intersection, the traffic light turned red and I stopped—automatic reflex. I looked to the left and to the right; no movement of any sort in either direction for blocks. No headlights behind me, none in the road ahead. The town was as lifeless as an abandoned movie set.

Why am I, a human being made in the image of Almighty God, waiting for a stupid machine to tell me I can go? Why do I have to sit here for two long minutes before I can drive on and finally crawl into bed?

I resented that mindless machine—dumb, unthinking, uncaring, oblivious of me and my needs—mechanically going through its cycle hour after hour. Its only power was in my conscience, my driving habits, and the fear that somewhere a policeman or a camera might record me violating that red-eyed order to stop and wait.

When it released me at last, I wondered why I felt so angry and resentful. Then it hit me. I had felt the same way during my decades of living in Brazil, probably one of the most heavily bureaucratised countries on earth. I used to take a full week off work to stand in endless lines just to renew a driver’s license.

But what is far worse is when churches unwittingly formulate policies that hinder the Holy Spirit’s leading. I remember a pastor telling me how many doctors, nurses, and Bible school teachers their denomination supported in Africa and Asia. I was much impressed and asked him, “What other ministries do you sponsor?”

“None”, he said, “we focus only on meeting medical needs and providing theological training.”

“But what happens when God equips a young couple in your congregation with the gifts and talents that fit them to meet other needs, like Bible translation? Would you support them financially?”

“Sorry, no we couldn’t. It’s against our rules.”

It was neither the first nor the last time I heard this explanation. It is worse than unthinking machines or mindless bureaucracy.

How could it have been the mind of Christ, the Spirit of Jesus, that inspired those rules?